Friday, October 29, 2010

Mondo Travesty

Spoiler alert, for those who haven't seen the finale of Project Runway.

Okay, Project Runway people, listen up. This is the second straight season where I've been ticked off at the winner of your show. Six straight seasons of (mostly) landing it on the head, and now the wheels are starting to come off the wagon.

Last season, it wasn't that there was some clear winner who got jobbed. I just didn't like Seth Aaron. I found him personally annoying, and his aesthetic to be ugly. I had been rooting for his elimination for weeks.

That wasn't the problem this season. I'm not a Gretchen hater. I think she's a very talented designer. And I even didn't really dislike her as a person. She did grate on me early on, but I think as we learned more about her and the struggles she had gone through, I understood a lot about where she was coming from. Her clothes were very wearable and usually interesting, and I can definitely see her selling in your local department store.

The problem this season wasn't that a bad designer won. It's that a truly unique talent -- arguably, I'd say, the single most talented designer that's ever been on the show with the exception of Christian Siriano -- didn't get the nod. Mondo's clothes were exceptional in every dimension -- exceptionally creative, exceptionally cheerful, colorful, bright, and fun. He mixed prints and colors beautifully, which I normally hate and is normally extremely hard to pull off. As Jill noted, as crazy and off-beat as Mondo's collection was, there was not a single item in it that she couldn't imagine someone she knew wearing (at this point I interjected that we had a slight advantage here, having attended Carleton). He instilled himself in every design that came down the runway. And, of course, he was adorable -- though that's just a bonus (Irina was an obvious villain in season 6, but she was also the clear victor).

When I think of Gretchen's career trajectory, it's selling interesting, stylish, wearable clothes at Macy's. And that's nothing to sneeze at, and a lot more than many other designers will reach. But the person who I think actually will do things in fashion -- who can push the ball in new and interesting ways -- that's Mondo.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


A York University (Canada -- good to see them again) professor, apparently somewhat infamous for decrying Jewish influence on, well, life, has alleged in a letter to the university president that York's Hillel is serving as an "agent of a foreign government" and should be disbanded. While Hillel does do advocacy work to prevent Israel from being demonized on campuses, it isn't Israel's "agent". Insofar as Jews have widely divergent views on what Israel should or shouldn't be doing, I suspect that many of Hillel's members oppose Israeli policies on a regular basis. Consequently, it would be highly surprising if Hillel's pro-Israel advocacy extended beyond a few "red-lines" that tend to unify the Jewish community.

And that gets to what this is really about -- the view that Jewish political agency (of which Israel, of course, is the preeminent example) is something dangerous, aberrational, and illegitimate. Suppose that our dear Professor was correct and Hillel did come to the conclusion that virtually all decisions made by the Israeli government were right, proper, and worthy of praise. Why isn't it their right to advocate it?

"Agent", of course, implies a form of bad faith -- that the group is bought and paid for, rather than "honestly" engaging in the deliberative project. As is usually the case in these sorts of allegations, there is really no way to prove this is the case, so it is deployed more as a rhetorical trope -- a discursive shunt which enables the speaker to preemptively discount whatever her interlocutor is saying as unworthy of consideration (regardless of its facial content). When Jews speak, we can't take what they say at face value -- there's always a deeper game at work, and that's what we need to be on the lookout for. Not listening with open ears and a critical eye, but furtively scrambling for the hidden agenda. It's an outlook that's fundamentally incompatible with respecting Jews as political subjects. Which, alas, many do not.

Can Counsel Cite Precedent?

People v. Hanifin, via the VC:
Defendant parked his car in the middle of Main Street in the Town of Union, Broome County in front of a business that, among other things, manufactures engine control systems for military purposes. He climbed on top of his car, poured a substance from a gasoline can onto his head, called 911 and threatened to light himself on fire if the war in Iraq did not end by a certain time that day. Emergency personnel from numerous agencies responded. Eventually, the responders doused defendant with a fire hose, took him into custody and determined that the gasoline cans contained water. Following a trial, defendant was convicted of falsely reporting an incident in the second degree and County Court sentenced him to five years of probation. He now appeals....

Defendant contends that he was conducting a protest, but his 1st Amendment rights do not permit him to falsely report an impending fire (see Schenck v United States, 249 US 47, 52 [1919])....

Being able to cite Schenck for someone actually making a false cry of "fire" is like being able to cite Carolene Products in a case that's actually about filled milk. Love it.

Death Wish

Arkansas school board member under fire for wishing all the "queers" would commit suicide:
According to the screen grab obtained by The Advocate, McCance wrote the following about the event: "Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers committed suicide. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed therselves because of their sin." (sic)

You really wonder how a mind gets poisoned like this. And I feel for his kids too, since Mr. McCance has now publicly sworn to disown them if they turn out to be gay.

UPDATE: Mr. McCance says he is planning to resign, so as to not sully his community by association with his "ignorant comments".

Raw Materials

Nigeria has intercepted several containers from an Iranian ship containing rocket launchers, grenades, and other explosives. The containers were disguised as building materials, and apparently bound for Gaza.

Of course, building materials are one of the things that Palestinian civilians desperately need to rebuild. And equally "of course", Iran is well aware that anything Palestinians need is something that can by cynically used as camouflage in order to further their real goal of killing more Israelis. I'm sure the Palestinian people are thrilled that building materials undoubtedly will be even less likely to be admitted into the strip now than before this little incident.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Has the President Condemned Marx Yet?

Like Pejman Yousefzadeh and (apparently) the rest of the Jewish community, I'm personally outraged that the Obama Administration has yet to discover time travel, and thus was unable or unwilling "to forcefully speak out against instances of anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party" -- namely, a statement by Rep. James Moran (D-VA) from September 2007 (over a year before President Obama took office). One would think if you're going to have one keynote example of Obama's supposed unwillingness to take on anti-Semitism, it would be a good one -- "good" defined here as "not requiring one to violate the laws of physics."

Shifting tactics from examples of Democratic anti-Semitism that occurred before Obama took office, Mr. Yousefzadeh then turns to examples that don't involve Democrats, also mentioning a collection of anti-Semitic cartoons posted on "progressive blogs". Alas, most of them show up on Indymedia, which, as the name might hint at, isn't associated with the Democratic Party (of course, even if some random yahoo who identifies as a Democrat says something anti-Semitic, that doesn't actually obliged the President to issue a response). Perhaps we can merge the two complaints together and inquire why the President hasn't come out against Lenin?

And don't get me started on the ridiculous double-standard wherein we can impute the President's "unwillingness" to condemn cartoons published on a website that 99% of Americans have never even heard is evidence of his contempt for Jews, but dare mention* racism amongst the Tea Partiers and you're playing the dreaded Race Card.

* Or, since Mr. Yousefzadeh, despite his recitation of Jews' apparent fear that we'll be "tarred as racist by a charismatic president who is a gifted orator," doesn't actually give an example of President Obama calling anybody -- much less a Tea Partier -- racist, have a "supporter" do it. Apparently, Obama's oratorical skills are so great that they transmute onto all the faithful.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Unfriendly Approach

Writing in the WaPo, Reuel Marc Gerecht claims that the problem with America's policy for combating Islamic extremism is that we've been too friendly to Islam writ large:
How do you approach the problem of Islamic militancy in the West and in the Middle East? President Obama, who has had innumerable briefings on the threats posed by al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups, has chosen to dial down American rhetoric (it was actually pretty tame under President George W. Bush) in the hope that average Muslims, wherever they may be, will view the United States as more friend than foe, and help Washington combat "violent extremism."

This friendly approach is probably, unfortunately, counterproductive. So far, it's unlikely that Muslim self-criticism -- our ultimate salvation from Islamic holy warriors -- has improved under Obama. Judging by the satellite channel Al-Jazeera, a vibrant hodgepodge of all things Arab, the opposite current, fed by Western self-doubt, appears to be gaining force. By being nice, we suggest that nothing within "Islam" -- by which I mean the 1,400-year-old evolving marriage of faith, culture and politics -- is terribly wrong. By being kind, we fail to provoke controversy among Muslims about why so many Muslims from so many lands have called suicide bombers against Western targets "martyrs" and not monsters. Worst of all, by being considerate we fail to echo the great Muslim dissidents, deeply religious men such as the Iranians Abdolkarim Soroush and Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari, who see that something has gone very wrong within their country and their civilization. The president would do well to be more nuanced in his outreach to the Muslim world, giving more sustenance to those who see its systemic problems.

I think there are several problems with this. First, I think there should be an inherent aversion to the President -- a government actor -- criticizing an entire religion as flawed or diseased (if only on Establishment Clause grounds). Criticize horrible acts done by or in the name of a religion? Yes, of course. But blurring together all of Islam -- Sunni and Shi'ite and Sufi, North African and Middle Eastern and South Asian -- and proclaiming it infected is the sort of sweeping judgment about religious faith that as a constitutional matter we should tread lightly over. Imagine if the President had issued a statement demanding Christianity reform itself after the George Tiller murderer? After all, when it comes to murdering doctors in the US, that's a problem primarily associated with Christian extremists. Putting aside the legal questions, I honestly don't think Islamic terrorism in the United States has manifested so gravely so as to warrant sweeping chastisement of an entire billion-plus-person religious faith.

Second, Gerecht's claim that "some Westerners are having a more vivid debate about Islam's travails than most Muslims are having," is vague to the extreme and gives no guidance about what the statement even means, much less whether it is a positive development. Obviously, it's simply wrong that the Muslim community doesn't have an internal debate going on about what Islam means (maybe they aren't having the debate in Gerecht's living room, but that's what makes it "internal"). And while perhaps the American "debate" is more "vivid", in the sense that it indulges in lurid fantasies about whether Islam is a religion at all or a massive Dr. Evil-esque conspiracy to dominate the world, but it's hardly the case that this is a salutary development.

But most importantly, I think Mr. Gerecht doesn't really get how this sort of criticism works, or what the likely reaction to it will be. Criticism is unlikely to be taken seriously as a genuine, good-faith attempt for mutual improvement when the criticizer has credibility with his or her target. But there is no reason to think that US officials, including the President, possess that sort of credibility in the Muslim world. President Obama isn't a Muslim, much less a Muslim reformer. He is the leader of a country which many Muslims believe is at war with them, personally. More to the point, while Gerecht is correct that the US government has thus far been reasonably consistent in being "nice" regarding Islam qua Islam, that's no longer the case with respect to all American leaders. Folks like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have had no such qualms regarding the permissibility of attacking Muslims qua Muslims -- Obama would likely be viewed as bowing to pressure from that segment of America, which (needless to say) would be credibility shredding. Pop quiz: Do you think the Goldstone Report helped or hurt the cause of Israeli critics of the occupation? How about the BDS movement? The answer is "obviously not", because neither the UN nor the BDS leadership possesses credibility with the community they are putatively trying to influence.

Mr. Gerecht doesn't explain why President Obama siding with Islamic reformers is likely to be considered credibility-enhancing in that community -- he seems to simply assume that if the US says something, everyone will have an epiphany about how right it is. In the "friend or foe" debate, we can just fiat the "friend" position, with no work on our part whatsoever. This is little more than intellectual Green Lanternism (ironically, a term created to counter an entirely different Gerecht argument).

This isn't to say that the US shouldn't make common cause with Islamic reformers, anymore than the US shouldn't make common cause with elements of any religious tradition (Jewish, Christian) seeking to undermine radical, violent, and/or fundamentalist elements inside its community. There are lots of organizations doing great work on the subject (the Quilliam Foundation out of the UK being a prominent one). But there's no reason to cast such groups as positive exceptions to the infected rule. Why make the concession that such views are exceptional or aberrational within Islam? That's fighting on the extremist's turf.

The Invisible House

CNN asks how it is that 11 Cleveland-area women could have gone missing and nobody noticed. Looking at the pictures, the answer seems obvious: None of them was a pretty White blonde.
And there is another suspicion echoing among Cleveland residents, particularly in the black community: that the lives of poor black women aren't worth much, certainly less than had they been suburban white women.

Gosh, whatever could give them that idea.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

They Love Us for Our Freedoms?

A Tea Party acolyte sings the praises of Israel:
Hucke is a Christian who has spent years evangelizing at shopping malls, and by her lights, our once-godly nation has become so decayed -- so crime-ridden and secular -- that it's time to draw lines. She supports racial profiling, for instance. "We've got Mexican people streaming across the border, and we can't profile that?" she says. "And who's flying airplanes into buildings? Muslims! You know how they treat Muslims over in Israel? They stop and search them. Because they're the ones who are doing it."

Israel, of course, does profile rather aggressively (though I don't think profiling exhausts Israel's treatment of Muslims). Nonetheless, this is hardly the type of praise I think Israel wants, nor is it the reason most American Jews support Israel. Jews want to see a "light unto nations"; (certain branches of) Christians apparently are just marveling at Israel's fine-tuning of a security state.

I accept that Israel faces grave security challenges that it needs to react to. But one of the things I admire about it is the degree to which it has preserved a commitment to human rights in the face of that struggle. Israel's engagement in profiling may be necessary, but it is hardly the element of its society that I'd want to see sung from the rooftops.